a letter from a parent (enrolled in a teacher
education program) whose son's school is in
one of the districts included in a
Brimmer, Cipielewski) on Accelerated
Reader. The study suggested
that too many schools consider only the reading
level of the book and not its social level
when buying the AR book package for the school
library, thus bringing inappropriate books
into lower grades.
In all fairness, it should be noted
here that Accelerated Reader does not sell books or packages.
These are sold by independent companies riding AR's coattails.
Nonetheless, when an inappropriate book (see below) ends
up at the wrong grade level, the guilt is immediately
associated with AR, not the packager. This is a bit like
blaming the manufacturer of the baseball when a pitcher
beans a batter. It should be noted that the
majority of books in an AR collection is totally grade
level appropriate. There are, however, exceptions. The
following letter is excerpted from the Pavonetti study:
February 1, 2001
I'm reading a book with my son
that he checked out from his elementary school
library . . . On the inside jacket cover, below
the price, it states "for 12 years and above." It
is marked as being a part of the Accelerated Reader
Program, and rated with a reading level of 5.0
(which is 5th grade, or age 10). The book is a
mystery called Mr. Was by Pete Hautman
(1996). The inside of the book jacket describes
the book as part mystery, part science fiction,
and part thriller . . . It turns out that the dying
grandfather does indeed die — which is also
fine. It turns out that the main character, a boy
of 14, has a father who drinks too much, verbally
abuses the mother, then one day physically abuses
her, landing her in the hospital. Reading on, the
father goes to AA, gets sober, rejoins the mother
and son, falls off the wagon, begins abusing the
mother again and "accidentally" murders
her with a baseball bat during a fight in the home
(witnessed by the son). Can this possibly be appropriate
reading material for elementary-aged school children?
I am so glad that my son and I were reading the
book together so that I was with him as the "bad" parts
were read. My son is in the third grade (age 8)
but reads at a level as high as 6.7. This book
seemed a logical choice for him . . . My question
is who (or what committee) decides upon the books
to be included in the Accelerated Reader program?
Does anybody ever read more than the book jacket
blurbs before making these decisions? I am amazed
that a book with this content is in the program.
The scenes I was appalled by were very graphic—down
to describing the sound the baseball bat made when
it struck the mother's head, crushing her skull
and killing her, as well as letting the reader
know that her neck was bent at an unnatural angle
as she lay dead in a pool of her own blood. My
son cried, I was disgusted, and I plan to ask someone
(a librarian or learning consultant?) at my son's
school about removing the book from the Accelerated
Reader "approved books" list. Am I being
unreasonable and overprotective, or is this type
of content truly inappropriate?
— excerpted from "Accelerated
Reader: What are the lasting effects on the reading
habits of middle school students exposed to Accelerated
Reader in elementary grades?"
by Linda M. Pavonetti, Kathryn M. Brimmer, and
James F. Cipielewski Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46:4,
December 2002/January 2003, p. 303
ost librarians (public and school) spend considerable time
reviewing, researching, and debating the books they purchase
for their collections. This is done to insure they are
getting the best and most for their money, as well as
to match the books with the appropriate grade and social
levels of students.
Do most districts increase their library
staffing when they buy into a program like Accelerated
Unfortunately, these procedures can
be short-circuited when a district simply buys a prepackaged
collection of books, a package that is already coded
for reading levels — which saves considerable time,
money, and effort but might provide volumes with the
elementary reading levels but middle school social levels.
This is largely
the responsibility of the people who purchase it and
abandon their responsibilities to insure that whatever
comes into contact with children in a school be developmentally
appropriate. That means every book must be screened
for its social content, along with the reading level.
If a district imports hundreds or thousands of new
books all at once, it's impossible for understaffed
librarians to quickly read and evaluate each book in
Do most districts
increase their library staffing when they buy into
a program like Accelerated Reader? No. Many believe
they've already spent enough money on the program.
This makes the district culpable in cases like the
one presented above.
is when children opt to read harder books in order
to achieve higher point levels. AR strongly encourages
students to stay within their reading levels in choosing
titles, insuring the child of greater success, but
parental and child pressures occasionally swing choices
in the wrong direction. Brem and Sadusky explore
this problem in their study, "The Integration
of Renaissance Programs into an Urban Title I Elementary
School, and its Effect on School-wide Improvement."
None of this
should be construed to mean censorship. Instead, it
is insuring that a child's education is developmentally
appropriate. No reasonable person would suggest a high
school sex education text be used in fourth grade;
the same logic holds with books like Mr.
used in an elementary school. (For an in-depth discussion
of book censorship or banning, including Harry
see Censorship at this site.)
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